Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Trade of Innocents: The Fight Against Child Exploitation

It is the worst possible sort of moral relativism.  Many times an American investigator is told he simply does not understand the complicated circumstances that might force a young girl into sexual slavery in Thailand.  Being a good Yank, he charges ahead anyway in Christopher Bessette’s Trade of Innocents (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

The tragedy of exploited children has particular resonance for Alex Becker and his wife Claire.  They still mourn their young daughter who was abducted and eventually found murdered a year later. After his military discharge, Becker joins an NGO invited into the country to help the local police investigate and prosecute traffickers in young children.  The previous police chief was genuinely helpful, but his successor is definitely one of those well-you-have-to-appreciate-how-things-work-here types. 

The timing is suspiciously bad for this personnel change.  Becker’s team has been building a strong case against a particularly repellent slaver named Duke.  With an American sex tourist demanding young girls, Duke has his eye on a young girl in the neighborhood social worker Claire Becker has befriended.

Trade is about as manipulative as you might expect, if not more so.  Frankly, that is rather to be expected of a film fueled by outrage, produced with for the express purpose of shaming the world into action.  Without question though, it is a work of true moral clarity.  Yet, it is pretty well put together from a technical perspective.  While he could be said to play on audience sympathies something fierce, writer-director Bessette makes them care about the characters, steadily ratcheting up the tension accordingly.

As the Beckers, Dermot Mulroney and Mira Sorvino have some surprisingly powerful scenes together dealing with their still very raw grief.  The former is a fairly credible take-charge cop-on-the-edge during the film’s procedural sequences as well.  Often cast as the western heavy in HK action films, Jonathan Isgar also brings a distinctive look and presence to film as Becker’s tall investigator colleague, Stan.

Shot entirely on-location in Bangkok, Trade definitely benefits from the exotic locales and teeming slums.  It is a pretty competent attempt to rally support for its mission partners (examples of which can be found on the film’s website), but it will probably not be remembered as the Uncle Tom’s Cabin in the fight against child exploitation.  Recommended for fans of Sorvino and those looking to spread awareness on the issue, Trade of Innocents opens this Friday (10/5) in New York at the Quad Cinema.